Cold Beat’s Hannah Lew Talks John Lennon, New Order, and Neil Young (Amongst Other Things…)

Although the pandemic provided a profound plethora of struggles for the vast majority of the world, some of our favorite musicians channeled those frustrations into music that is surprisingly...

Although the pandemic provided a profound plethora of struggles for the vast majority of the world, some of our favorite musicians channeled those frustrations into music that is surprisingly optimistic… possibly none more surprising than ultra-moody San Francisco-based, post-punk-leaning poppers Cold Beat, who released their latest album, War Garden, this September digitally, courtesy of Like Ltd.  The synth-heavy album contains perhaps more shimmering rays of optimism than the band’s entire back catalogue… even if they’re still far from “profound.”  The title is even a reference to the gardens planted by civilians to grow their own food while suffering the traumas of World War II.  I recently got a chance to chat with Cold Beat’s Hannah Lew, who tells me that the album not only brought the band closer, but provided obstacles that forced them to come up with new ways of working together.

Izzy Cihak: War Garden has been out for a little while now.  Have you had any favorite reactions to the album, whether from critics or fans?

Hannah Lew: My favorite reactions to anything we’ve done in the past few years has been from Henry Rollins.  He’s been so enthusiastic and supportive.  It’s a trip.

Izzy: A lot of critics have been commenting on how different the album sounds from previous releases (although most of them still seem to like it).  How do you feel like it compares to your previous work?  I hear it was all written on Zoom.

Hannah: I think our band has had a natural evolution rather than any kind of departures.  We have been working remotely in different ways for a few albums now since Sean has lived in LA this whole time and I was pregnant and some other things, so when COVID hit we knew just what we needed to do to expand on our already remote writing style.  We were all so isolated and going through so much that I think everyone just brought more to the table creatively, so there is more variety songwriting wise.

Izzy: I like the whole album, but I especially love “Leaves And Branches,” which reminds me of balladry from like the end of Joy Division and the beginning of New Order.  How did that particular track come about?  Is it anyone in the band’s favorite?

Hannah: Thanks!  I don’t know if that song is anyone’s favorite, but it was one that just spilled out of me one day when I was feeling repentant about my behavior in a relationship with an estranged friend.  I’ve always wanted to write a song as honest and full of humility as “Jealous Guy” by John Lennon.  I’m not sure if this song does that, but I was thinking of “Jealous Guy” while writing it.  I played the guitar on “Leaves and Branches,” which I actually did more on this record than I ever have.  I don’t think of myself as a guitar player — but you nailed New Order is my singular guitar style influence.  Maybe because I am a bass player playing guitar and I think in single notes.  I also don’t know how to play proper chords on the guitar 🙂

Izzy: I really dig your recent videos for “Mandelbrot Fall” and “See You Again,” and I know that you all made the “Mandelbrot Fall” video yourselves, so I’m curious what it is that inspires the visual elements of Cold Beat.  Are there any visual artists or works that you find to be especially inspiring?

Hannah: Thank you!  The “See You Again” video was made by my longtime friend Mimi Pfahler.  She is just so talented and sensitive.  I knew she would nail it.  I basically shared an image of inspiration and told her what the song was about and she made something so beautiful and just to the song.  I’m so impressed by her!  Then — for “Mandelbrot Fall” — I shot it on my VHS camera and then Sean and Luciano freaked it on the computer.  It also went through a layer of freaking by the extremely talented Mike Stoltz, another dear friend.  We as a band are constantly sharing images and songs and fashion clips and memes of course.  So, we have a sort of developed visual language amongst us.  When we were piecing the album art together we zeroed in on a very specific color scheme based on specific Pantone pairings and we decided to play with that same color scheme for “Mandelbrot Fall.”  I’m excited for the vinyl version of our record to come out in January so everyone can see that aspect of the album.  I recently saw the Nam June Paik exhibit at MOMA by myself and burst into tears upon leaving the museum because I was so moved.  Their way of describing mediation and what is real/what is right in front of us.  Just made me think about the effects of seeing things on TV, a device vs seeing something/someone IRL. The exhibit just really struck a chord.

Izzy: A lot of musicians have recently been telling me that they spent the pandemic revisiting their record collections, so I’m curious if that’s true for you?  What have you been listening to a lot of recently, whether old favorites or stuff that’s more recent?

Hannah: Haha, yeah my husband and I went deep down that rabbit hole and completely re organized our record collection during COVID.  I’ve been listening almost exclusively to Neil Young lately.  So many bootlegs and live shows.  I’ve developed an insatiable hunger for it.  I want to hear everything.

Izzy: You’ve collaborated with some really cool people, like Stephen Mallinder from Cabaret Voltaire, who I was like obsessed with as a goth teen.  Is there anyone that you dream of getting to collaborate with, whether entirely realistic or not?

Hannah: Neil Young.

Izzy: You have a few upcoming California shows.  What can be expected of the live experience?

Hannah: I’m gonna try not to cry at our shows.  I can’t wait!  It’s been so long since we’ve played and practicing the set has been feeling really good.  I haven’t even been to a show let alone an indoor bar since the pandemic began, so I’m prepared for some culture shock.  All in all I’m looking forward to that intensity.  We used to hide behind a lot of smoke machines and jewel colored lighting, but I really want to be uncovered a little more for these shows.  (Even if I have aged 10 years in the past year.)

Izzy: Finally, what’s next for Cold Beat?  Is there anything you’re especially excited about for the end of 2021 or the first part of 2022?  Any chance we may get to see you on the East Coast sometime soon?

Hannah: We’re dying to hit the East Coast.  Hopefully next Spring?  We have a fun secret covers project we’ll be working on over the winter.  Looking forward to settling into the studio this winter and hopefully seeing you early next year 🙂

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.